Cast your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some. (John 21:6)
Early in the morning during a little getaway to the beach I watched fishermen working with their net out from the shore. First they cast out the huge net which looked a couple hundred feet long. It was marked with buoys so that other boats would avoid it. Then, after letting the net sit for a while, the fishermen began hauling it on board. Binoculars helped me inspect the catch which consisted of more fish than I could count, pretty small ones and pretty large ones alike. Each was taken on board and put into various holds on the boat. Each presumably had value, if even only to be used later as bait. When the teeming net had been completely hauled in, off the boat went, a good day’s work already completed before most had even awakened.
As I watched the fishermen with the net, the passage from John came to mind where the resurrected Christ observes from the shore the disciples doing their early morning fishing. So far they have caught nothing and Jesus suggests they cast the net on the other side of the boat. Not recognizing him, they yell to the stranger that they have been fishing all night and haven’t caught anything. Jesus encourages them to try again and, when they throw the net out once more and let it sit for a while, they gather in a huge catch, 153 fish as the gospel writer notes. There doesn’t seem to be any symbolism in that particular number but obviously it does signify a bunch of fish. After the abundant catch, the risen Christ is recognizable to them.
About an hour after I watched the fishermen depart from their successful catch, back they came for another. Ah, coming back to the same spot, as any good fishermen would do, I thought. But no, on they went, past where they had hauled in the teeming net, on down the shore several hundred yards where they cast out the net once again.
The gulf is a vast body of water and the fish move around a lot. Fish, in fact, can’t stay still. Maybe they even move while they’re sleeping, though I don’t really know. But fish, while they may return to a place where they have found good eating, don’t just stay there. The other fish are always moving around too, so there’s constant motion beneath the surface.
When Jesus tells the disciples to cast out the net on the other side of the boat, it’s easy to see why they think that’s stupid. Fish are no more likely to be here than there. Maybe what Jesus is telling them is not to be discouraged. Fish are always moving around. Keep on casting out your nets and they will fill up. It’s probably not so important where one throws the net but that one keeps throwing the net back in the water. That’s where the fish are.
Sometimes it seems we are fishing for grace and thinking it is hiding from us, or too fickle to be gathered, or will only come when we lure it with baited behavior. Maybe we think of fishing for grace more like fly fishing where our skill of casting and pursuing are all important. But the disciples used nets, maybe ones hundreds of feet long. And they hauled in the fish in abundance, not one at a time.
Grace is bigger than we first imagine. There’s a lot of it. It’s always moving around, not easily confined to just one place. Do you seek grace with a net-like attitude or is your approach more like a cane pole? Are you expecting huge amounts of blessings and gifts or are you just hoping one little good thing might float by and jump onto your little hook? Are you open to abundance or have your sights grown so small you merely see an occasional bright spot?
Just beneath the surface of our lives, there is a huge abundance of grace. It extends deep and wide. Wherever you go, that abundance is right there. Right where you are now, that same abundance exists. Throw out your nets here or there and grace will be gathered. The only mistake is not throwing out the net. Be encouraged on your journey. The grace of the risen Christ is teeming for you.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.